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The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Executive Committee and the Refugee Women and Gender Equality Unit within the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees have both asserted that the Algerian-based National Union of Sahrawi Women is an “ideal” partner by virtue of its success in mainstreaming gender equality and empowering Sahrawi refugee women. In this article, I examine the nature and implications of this idealization of the protracted Sahrawi refugee camps, arguing that international celebrations of the National Union of Sahrawi Women and the refugee women it purports to represent have directly influenced the development of projects in the camps that marginalize the needs and priorities of “non-ideal” women and girls with grave effects. As such, I suggest that while refugees and their political representatives may formally adopt donors’ rhetoric and preferences vis-à-vis gender equality mainstreaming, such strategies may facilitate and solidify processes of exclusion and marginalization in different contexts of displacement. Concurrently, this leads us to ask who benefits from assertions and categorizations of “good” and “bad” practice, and whose interests are advanced by discourses surrounding “gender equality”.

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Journal article


Oxford University Press

Publication Date



29 (2)


64 - 84